Oxford alumna takes university to court over sexual assault policy

A former student of the University of Oxford has launched a legal challenge against her alma mater over its policy on investigating rape allegations

May 7, 2015

The legal case of Elizabeth Ramey, who was previously a postgraduate student at the institution, will argue that Oxford’s policy of investigating rape claims only under certain circumstances is unlawful and discriminatory.

The university said that it is “robustly defending” the application “on all grounds”.

The preliminary stage of Ms Ramey’s legal challenge will be heard in the High Court tomorrow.

Ms Ramey, who has chosen to waive her right to anonymity, reported a sexual assault in 2011. She said that the university failed to investigate the allegation properly or take any action against the alleged perpetrator, a fellow student.

The case was investigated by the police but the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to pursue the case.

She later made a complaint to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which was partially upheld, and the OIA recommended that Oxford clarify its policy.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition, who are supporting her case, say that the new version of the policy “still allows Oxford to avoid investigating serious sexual assaults, leaving women at risk and failing to recognise the University’s legal responsibilities towards them”.

Ms Ramey explains in judicial review papers already put before the court: “The University’s new policy will further discourage women from reporting sexual assaults, knowing that their cases are unlikely to be investigated or lead to disciplinary proceedings. Not only does this place an unfair emotional burden on women, it also places them at greater risk.”

Her claim, funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, argues that Oxford is indirectly discriminating against women by creating a hostile environment and creates substantial risk that women’s human rights are violated if assaults are not investigated.

It will also argue that the university has breached the public sector equality duty by failing to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination and harassment of women.

EVAW’s acting director, Sarah Green, said that student sexual assault is a “very widespread and serious problem”.

She added: “A National Union of Students survey found that one in four women students experienced some form of sexual assault, and 7 per cent had been subject to a serious sexual assault.

“It is essential that universities have robust policies for investigating rape to ensure women students are safe on campus.”

A spokeswoman from the university said it was “robustly defending this application on all grounds” and that Ms Ramey’s initial legal challenge had been refused on paper.

She added: “The harassment policy was developed through consultation with students and other interested parties and had regard to practice across UK higher education generally.”

holly.else@tesglobal.com

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